The Shift in India’s Strategy to Counter Pakistan Sponsored Terrorism

Nirmal Jindal
April 21, 2019


There is a noticeable shift in India’s policy to counter Pak sponsored terrorism after Pulwama attack on 02 February 2019. Pakistan has been pursuing the strategy of cross-border terrorism in India since the 1980s. Pakistan has failed to achieve its objectives in Kashmir after fighting three conventional wars with India (1947,1965,1971), and has since resorted to the policy of state-sponsored terrorism to fight proxy-war in India to pursue its unfinished agenda in Kashmir. Terrorism has been used as an instrument of state policy by Pakistan because it has been a cost-effective strategy to keep India engaged in the security imbroglio.  Further, the insidious nature of the threat due to hidden and secret warfare poses great challenge to any possible resolution.

India has been suffering terrorism in Kashmir since 1989. The global community, however, did not recognise India’s plight and instead considered terrorism in Kashmir as Kashmiri people’s fight for the right to self-determination. It was only after 9/11 attacks that Islamic terrorism was recognised as a global menace. Various terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e- Mohammed (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen have been operating from Pakistan’s territory to bleed India through cross border terrorism and other modes of sub-conventional war.

The acquisition of nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan did not change Pakistan’s strategy of cross border terrorism, instead, Pakistan felt emboldened to deter India’s military response to its state-sponsored terrorist acts. Since the acquisition of nuclear weapons, Pakistan has raised the stakes for any Indian counter to intrusions in Indian territory and has been targeting India’s value structures. The Kargil war of1999, immediately after nuclearisation of India and Pakistan, was indicative of Pakistan’s renewed confidence to continue to fight proxy wars with India. Assuming a restrained response, India fought the Kargil war only to end Pakistan’s occupation in Kargil. India exercised restraint from resorting to a full scale conventional war which could have escalated to an all-out nuclear war. Most of the terrorist attacks since, have) remained unresponded despite clear evidence that these were Pakistan sponsored terrorist acts. India’s response to Kandahar hijack (hijack of IC 814, 1999) became almost a stigma in the history of India’s security. In this case, terrorists were not only released, but the Indian government also paid a high amount of money demanded by the terrorists.

Due to India’s diminishing relative capability and strategy to respond to Pakistan’s sponsored terrorism, Pakistan increased its attacks on value structures of India; terrorist attacks on military bases in Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama indicated ISI support to terrorist wings to fight proxy wars in India. In response to Pakistan’s cross border terrorism, India has resorted to cross border surgical strikes to make the proxy war costlier for Pakistan. In September 2016, JeM `errorists had attacked Indian army base camp in Uri. Indian forces responded by surgical strike on the terrorist camps in the Pakistan side of LOC. However, Pakistan remained undeterred and continued its strategy of proxy war. In February 2019, JeM launched a deadly attack on the CRPF convoy in Pulwama, killing 40 CRPF jawans. In response, India carried out air strikes on JeM terrorist camps in Balakot. For the first time, public opinion and media played a significant role in building pressure on the Indian government for action against Pakistan. India could also mobilize global support for its cause due to its changing power position.

India’s strike on terrorist training camps in Balakot marks a shift in India’s policy as it has decided not to let any of Pakistan’s sponsored terrorist acts go unresponded. India’s surgical strike on Balakot in response to Pulwama signifies India’s position of decisiveness, firmness, and strength.

Pakistan did not counter India’s military action immediately due to various reasons:  asymmetrical military power balance with India; global support for India’s fight against Pakistan’s sponsored terrorism; weak economic conditions in Pakistan and its reliance on foreign aid and assistance etc. The close allies of Pakistan – Russia, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E and China also advised Pakistan to exercise restraint in case of India’s attack on Balakot. Pakistan’s denial of India’s attack in Balakot and release of Indian pilot Abhinandan were hailed as a success of India’s changed strategy. Besides, India insisted on the  UN listing of  Masood Azhar, that would  declare him a global terrorist but Pakistan’s close ally, China had blocked the UNSC resolution for the fourth time this year.

The apparent shift in India’s strategy aims to prevent Pakistan from using cross border terrorism as a cost-effective strategy. To counter Pakistan’s state-sponsored terrorism, India needs to evolve a long term, multi-pronged approach including political, economic, diplomatic, and strategic measures as well as strengthening its intelligence and surveillance to ensure India’s peace, security, and sovereignty.

*** The author is an Associate Professor at Satyawati College, Delhi University ***